Key indicators Role of indicators Cycle of tourismType of indicators
TABLE: Key indicators


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Table: core set of indicators
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Key indicators to monitor sustainable tourism development

Monitoring is a "must"

The typical European tourism product depends to a large extent on the sustainable development of destinations. The vast majority of tourists are looking for intact nature, beautiful landscapes and a rich cultural heritage; they want a clean and healthy environment and they want to enjoy a socially friendly climate. In fact there is a strong link between sustainability and quality: most issues such as low noise, less traffic, clean air and water, rich culture and bio-diversity, are the focal points of sustainability strategies and crucial for the quality of destinations.

Tourism itself also plays a positive or negative role in the context of sustainability. It consumes non-renewable resources such as land, water and energy; tourism transport generates noise and air pollution and contributes increasingly to global warming and tourism may also seriously affect the social and economic welfare of local communities. For tourism businesses it does not make much sense to invest a lot of money into reducing their environmental impact and raising quality when, at the same time, the whole destination is losing its attractiveness.

These are the main reasons why the partners of the European LIFE project “VISIT” developed and tested indicators for sustainability in tourism destinations which shall allow to extend the concept of sustainability in tourism to the level of destinations. Friends of Nature International together with ARPAER have been entrusted with this work. The results below shall help tourism destin­ations to introduce both an indicator system and an Environmental Management System in order to make their tourism product more sustainable. Tourism authorities, local administrations and experts dealing with sustainable regional development policy and tourism sector management can use the indicators to introduce appropriate measures and to monitor the level and progress of sustainability in their destination

Sustainable development
The concept of sustainable development has become the focus of political, economic and social strategies, since economies have come up against the limits set by the natural environment (its “carrying capacity”). This happened, for example, at the beginning of industrialisation, when industry used a lot of wood to produce energy thus endangering the existence of forests especially in Europe. It was at that time that forestry developed the concept of sustainable planting and harvesting of woods. In 1975, the Club of Rome published its famous report, “Limits to growth”, demonstrating that the resources on which our industrial economies primarily depend, such as oil, gas or coal, may be exhausted within the 21st century. In 1987, the Brundtland Report to the World Commission on Environment and Development, “Our Common Future”, for the first time mentioned “sustainable development” at the global level as “a development that meets the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

The World Summits of Rio de Janeiro (1992) and Johannesburg (2002) have agreed on an action plan to implement the concept of sustainability on global and local level (Agenda 21). Sustainable development should become a focal point of economic, social and environmental management, but include also the cultural and institutional dimension. Sustainability stands for finding satisfying ways of life for all within the capacity of the planet now and in the future.

Essentially, the concept of sustainable development tries to cope with three important problems: the issue of an increasing depletion of non-renewable resources, the issue of overexploiting renewable resources and nature and the issue of equity between people or nations. The latter means, that the depletion and overexploitation of resources and nature by the industrialised part of the world reduces not only the chances of future generations, but also that of other parts of the world. We propose to call these three issues the sustainability problems.

Sustainable development is a political concept for the balanced development of societies on the basis of the available natural and human resources on our planet. The implementation of sustainable development requires integrated strategies whereby we try to reduce the use of non-renewable resources, to safeguard nature and earth as our only living base and to realise more global justice and equity in the use of and access to those natural resources.

How can we assign sustainability to a certain territory, person or activity?

What does sustainability mean in practical terms for individuals, for tourism businesses, for villages or towns? How much energy, how much land is available for the individual? How many kilometres per year are we allowed to travel by plane or by car? How much water should a tourist consume?

Unfortunately there is no specific answer to any of these questions. Even if we had a precise eco allowance, e.g. annual maximum amount of CO2 emissions, for every person on our planet, and if we knew the sum total of resources, e.g. raw materials or energy, we use, or the sum total of pollutants we emit into the environment, there would be little sense in allocating specified, individual consumption or pollution rights. First of all, because living conditions on our planet differ substantially. In a northern country, such as Norway, more energy must be used for heating than, for instance, in Spain. Secondly, because we live in a world characterised by different availability of resources (the free market and the proviso for rela­tive wealth on individual and community bases) Thirdly, because we are unable to estimate how much or how little future generations will consume.

We know that certain resources and raw mater­ials, such as oil or coal, are being rapidly depleted, because annual consumption is constantly increasing. We know that our fish stocks are dwindling, that water and soil are contaminated and many important species are threatened by extinction. We know that the global atmosphere will continue to heat up, if we fail to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. We know that even now it would be impossible for the entire world population to indulge in the wasteful lifestyles of people living, for example, in the industrialised countries. If we fail to respond to these pressures in good time, we shall drift from environmental crisis to crisis with our eyes open. What we face are global sustainability problems, which have to be solved by all of us – inter alia by the tourism community.
The solution needs not necessarily lie in “giving things up“, it lies in re-setting our course: by using energy from renewable sources instead of oil and coal, by using less land area thanks to better land-use planning and better organisation of our economic activities, by redu­cing waste, etc.
Added to these global problems are local sustainability problems, which arise from the situation of a given destination. For example, if islands or southern destinations have not enough drinking water, they are faced with a sustainability problem, even if sufficient water resources may be available somewhere else. The same goes for all the other ‘stationary’ resources, such as land or natural landscapes.
So there are sustainability problems that arise from global development and others, which are rooted in the limits to local environments.